Recent changes in southern Australian frost occurrence: implications for wheat production risk


Frost damage remains a major problem for broadacre cropping, viticulture, horticulture and other agricultural industries in Australia. Annual losses from frost events in Australian broadacre agriculture are estimated at between $120 million and $700 million each year for this sector. Understanding the changing nature of frost risk, and the drivers responsible, are important steps in helping many producers manage climate variability and change. Our analysis, using Stevenson screen temperature thresholds of 2°C or below as an indicator of frost at ground level, demonstrates that across southern Australia, despite a warming trend of 0.17°C per decade since 1960, ‘frost season’ length has increased, on average, by 26 days across the whole southern portion of Australia compared with the 1960–1990 long-term mean. Some areas of south-eastern Australia now experience their last frost an average 4 weeks later than during the 1960s. The intersection of frost and wheat production risk was quantified at 60 sites across the Australian wheatbelt, with a more in-depth analysis undertaken for 15 locations across Victoria (i.e. eight sites common to both the National and Victorian assessments and seven sites exclusive to the Victorian analysis). The results of the national assessment highlight how frost-related production risk has increased by as much as 30% across much of the Australian wheatbelt, for a range of wheat maturity types, over the last two decades, in response to an increase in later frost events. Across 15 Victorian sites, sowing dates to achieve anthesis during a period with only a 10% chance of a 0°C night occurring shifted by 23 days (6 June) for the short-season variety, 20 days (17 May) for the medium-season variety and 36 days later (9 May) for the long-season variety assessed.

Crop and Pasture Science
Bangyou Zheng
Bangyou Zheng
Data Scientist / Digital Agronomist

a research scientist of digital agriculture at the CSIRO.